SharePoint Designer 2013 is a useful tool for SharePoint administrators, designers, and developers. However, you should be aware of several key changes in the latest version of the product.

I know many SharePoint administrators who refer disparagingly to Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2013, especially its previous versions, as "SharePoint Destroyer." To be sure, a SharePoint user who is armed with SharePoint Designer can conceivably wreak havoc in the portal up to and including his or her privilege limit in the farm.

I'm here to let you know that, despite SharePoint Designer's rocky history (did you know that it is actually a not-so-distant relative of Microsoft FrontPage?), SharePoint Designer 2013 adds a great deal of value to SharePoint administrators.

I'm not talking only of farm administrators, either. Site collection administrators, site admins, and designers can use SharePoint Designer 2013 to make their lives easier in the same way, for instance, that tools like Toad make database administration easier. Let's get started!

Actually, before we get into the nitty-gritty, let me first answer the fundamental question “What is SharePoint Designer?” First off, SharePoint Designer is not intended for end users. This is a tool that SharePoint administrators, sub-administrators, and designers can use to perform a variety of customization and administration tasks, including (but not limited to):

  • Editing pages and templates (excellent for corporate branding)
  • Adding, editing, managing, and deleting lists and libraries
  • Managing site security
  • Authoring and managing list and site workflows
  • Integrate external line of business (LOB) data with SharePoint artifacts

SharePoint Designer 2013 is free ^

Starting with SharePoint Designer 2007, Microsoft made SharePoint Designer available for free download. I believe that Microsoft did this to "lower the financial bar" and make SharePoint branding and customization more accessible to administrators.

You can (and should) download SharePoint Designer 2013 from the Microsoft Download Center.

The look and feel of SharePoint Designer, from installation to usage to uninstallation, is identical to that of any member of the Office 2013 product family. However, it should be said that SharePoint Designer is officially a part of the SharePoint, and not Office, portfolio.

Design View is gone ^

One of the biggest and most obvious changes in SharePoint Designer 2013 is that Microsoft removed the visual Design view in SharePoint Designer 2013. This means that you'll have to do all of your page and element editing by editing the "raw" XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript code by hand.

Check out the two screenshots below to see a comparison between the SharePoint Designer 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2013 page editing interfaces.

SharePoint Designer 2010 allows you to customize site pages in a design view

SharePoint Designer 2010 allows you to customize site pages in a design view.

SharePoint Designer 2013 has only a code view

SharePoint Designer 2013 has only a code view (you can preview the page in a browser, though).

SharePoint Designer 2013 and Visio 2013 ^

Microsoft made huge advances in their workflow platform between SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. For one thing, SharePoint 2013 deprecates Workflow Foundation v3 in favor of WF v4. Also, workflow processing is gradually moving away from the local farm and instead into the cloud; namely the Azure Workflow Server (AWS) and Workflow Manager 1.0.

As a matter of fact, you'll need to download, install, and configure Workflow Manager in your SharePoint 2013 farm in order to create WF v4 workflows.

Given these changes, I'm surprised to see that both SharePoint Designer 2013 and Visio 2013 allow you to create SharePoint 2010 workflows, but indeed they do.

Moreover, so long as you have SharePoint Designer 2013 and Visio 2013 Professional Edition installed on the same box, you can create SharePoint 2013 workflows by using a nifty visual design surface, as shown below.

SharePoint Designer 2013Visio 2013 visual workflow designer

Once you get all the moving parts in place, the SharePoint Designer 2013/Visio 2013 visual workflow designer is really nice.

The screenshot above shows a true blending of SharePoint Designer 2013 and Visio 2013 Professional. Note that you can also create SharePoint 2013 workflows by using Visual Studio 2012.

The SharePoint Designer 2013 Ribbon interface also allows you to import workflow drawings composed in Visio 2013 as well as export SharePoint Designer 2013 workflows out to Visio drawings.

SharePoint Designer in Central Administration ^

As a farm administrator, you do indeed want to be selective in who you allow to use SharePoint Designer because the tool is powerful and makes it easy to mess things up.

In the SharePoint Server 2013 Central Administration Web site, you can navigate to General Application Settings > Configure SharePoint Designer settings to establish the farm's SharePoint Designer settings.

SharePoint Central Administration

We can control access to SharePoint Designer through SharePoint Central Administration.

It's important to note that SharePoint Designer policy in SharePoint Server 2013 is not an all-or-nothing proposition. For starters, you can deploy SharePoint Designer policy on a per-Web application basis. Second, you can disable certain SharePoint Designer features, such as the ability of a site collection administrator to customize master and layout pages.

By default, only SharePoint users with at least the Designer permissions level could conceivably use SharePoint Designer anyway. You should be subscribing to the IT security principle of least privilege anyway and rigorously trimming SharePoint (and Active Directory, for that matter) security group membership.

Finally, remember that you can always turn to other in-box application management solutions such as AppLocker.

At any rate, I'll leave you with a screenshot of an error message, which shows the message box a user receives if he or she attempts to open SharePoint Designer when their user account is prevented from doing so by policy.

This web site has been configured to disallow editing with SharePoint Designer

This web site has been configured to disallow editing with SharePoint Designer.

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